Today we begin Genesis Chapter 35.
For the Complete Jewish Bible, click here.
For the King James Version, click here.
God said to Jacob, “Get up, go up to Beit-El and live there, and make there an altar to God, who appeared to you when you fled ‘Esau your brother.”-Genesis 35:1
I’m sure anybody who has ever taken an intro Bible class at a Bible college or seminary is familiar with the term “progressive revelation“.
The idea is that throughout human history, who God is, His nature and characteristics, and how He works was not revealed all at once but bit by bit.
How the ancient Hebrews comprehended the nature of God was quite different than our modern understanding.
Notice in verse 1, God is telling Jacob to build an altar “to the God” who appeared to you.
He didn’t tell Jacob to build an altar to “Me”.
Isn’t this strange?
YHVH is referring to Himself as “the God” who appeared to you.
He is implying to Jacob that there are other gods besides Him and that He is the one god who appeared to him at Beit-el.
Did God really believe there were other gods in existence besides himself?
Of course not, but how God phrases his instructions to Jacob points out the mindset of that time.
It also shows how God patiently accommodated himself to Jacob’s limited understanding of Himself.
According to the belief system of that time, it was believed that there were many gods and that they were territorial.
For example, gods who resided in Mesopotamia ONLY held power in Mesopotamia, not in other areas.
This was how everybody believed and at this point in time we don’t really see YHVH taking steps to rectify this misperception of reality.
We don’t have God telling Jacob to build an altar to Him while he was in Mesopotamia.
It is only once he is back in Canaan that God then told Jacob to build an altar.
This would have made perfect sense to Jacob, because in his mind YHVH was a god who resided and held authority in Canaan, the Promised Land.
However, concerning whether or not YHVH could exercise power in other lands or win in battles against other “gods”, Jacob was not so confident.
400 years later in Egypt God would indeed demonstrate His power over other gods, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
The point is that to the minds of the ancient Israelites, exactly who YHVH was, how powerful He was, where His territorial influence began and ended was still a very fuzzy concept in their minds.
Many of their beliefs in this area were still governed by the cultural superstitions of the day.